Examine the photo of this artistic display. What do you notice about the figures climbing up the wall? Some of them have climbed greater heights than others, and each is still holding onto their rope, as they make their way to the top.
How can we encourage a similar phenomenon in STEM education–that is, for students to hang on? Well, we know from experience that if STEM retention issues are left unaddressed, the results are typically unfavorable – low numbers of STEM employees entering the workforce and lack of diversity, among other issues.
While there is no quick fix, we can encourage students to hang on to STEM by harnessing their existing and/or developing interest at various levels.
Here are some ways:
Infants: Encourage sensory play through exposure to different sights, sounds, and textures to play upon their amazing perceptual acuity.
Toddlers/Two’s: Now mobile, have them take a more hands-on approach to exploring natural phenomena outdoors. Support problem-solving and engineering design through activities such as shape sorting and building with large blocks. Let them experiment – they are natural scientists.
Preschoolers: Support their natural curiosity. Answer the “why” questions. Provide them with opportunities to explore and ask questions about the world around them. Let them build, create and innovate. Encourage early skill development in math and reading.
Elementary: Show them diverse role models in STEM, and take learning to the next level by challenging them with more problem-solving and scientific experimentation. Hone and develop foundational skills in math and reading.
Middle School: Continue dispelling myths about STEM only being for particular types of students. Encourage active involvement in science fairs and extracurricular STEM activities such as robotics, brick clubs, and others.
High School: Advise them to take advanced coursework in STEM areas to support future college success. Have them seek opportunities to “do” research, computer science, and other activities in STEM.
College: Mentor and support STEM students throughout their earliest years when they are most likely to change majors away from STEM. Encourage them to seek out advanced opportunities in STEM (research, internships, etc.)
The list can continue throughout post-college years, but we’ll save that for another day. Let’s help our children and students…hang on to STEM!